The SBC is sounding plenty of sour notes these days – political roilings and wranglings, theological false accusations, racial unrest, schism, and discord abounding. In an environment such as this, the icing on the cake would seem to be another lawsuit between prominent Southern Baptists. Just what 2020 ordered, right?
Last night, I was given a PDF of a lawsuit originating from Ben Mandrell and LifeWay against the former president, Thom Rainer. It was filed yesterday. I’m not sure how clear my COVID-infested brain is and so I’m reticent to opine on legal issues on which I claim no expertise when I am of (relatively) sound mind.
The lawsuit revolves around the agreement Rainer signed with LifeWay when he announced his retirement. He agreed to stay on until October of 2020 or until one side or the other canceled the contract. Rainer then agreed to a 12-month no-compete clause at the end of that term. Rainer has signed a contract with Tyndale to promote his books and other commercial endeavors.
Here is where I am engaging in speculation. I wonder if the gist of the conflict may be when the 12-month term started and when it ends. Rainer ended his term of service early and perhaps the issue is whether his 12-month no-compete began on the date of the contract (end of next month) or at the end of his actual term of service. This is speculation. I did read the lawsuit but it only claims irreparable harm to LifeWay to lose him.
1. Thom Rainer is one of LifeWay’s cash cows, likely alongside Beth Moore. His bestselling books and other projects make a lot of money for LifeWay. It is understandable that they would want to keep him in the fold.
2. It is hard to see how this is anything but a black eye for LifeWay and for Southern Baptists. Ben Mandrell and LifeWay are suing his predecessor. It is an ugly look for LifeWay, for Mandrell, and for Dr. Rainer. No one comes out of this looking good.
3. I had quite a bit of interaction with Dr. Rainer during his time at LifeWay, likely the most I had with any entity leader except for Frank Page. I believe him to be a man of character and honesty. Whatever is going on here, I do not believe he is ignoring the law or acting with willful disregard for what is right (as is accused in the lawsuit). I do not believe he is that kind of man.
4. I know that there are a hundred excuses as to why the admonition of 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 doesn’t apply to situations like this. We have become experts in the dis-application of Scripture. That passage says that Christians shouldn’t go to court with other believers, that it is better to be wronged than to take a brother to court. I guess I wonder why a lawsuit is the only remedy here. I understand using the courts for abuse, for criminal activity, but this seems to be over money.
5. Here’s a question – is there no way that some form of mediation could have been established to avoid an ugly lawsuit? Did Ben Mandrell and the trustees of LifeWay exhaust EVERY avenue before they entered such an action with a man who has done much good for the SBC? Was this necessary? Was there no other solution?
A Tentative Conclusion
Is there some back-story, something more to this than we know? It is not a great way for Ben Mandrell to earn goodwill with Southern Baptists. If he is engaging in something with the appearance of unseemliness that this has, he needs to be upfront and transparent about why he is doing it. Suing a prominent Southern Baptist such as Thom Rainer is not something that can be done on the sly. He owes all Southern Baptists a full explanation of the reasons for this.
This does not look good for LifeWay – suing its former president. Until we hear Dr. Rainer’s side, this does not help his legacy. I stand by my belief that Dr. Rainer has a side that at the very least is within the boundaries of integrity. This is not helpful for Southern Baptists.
LifeWay needs to explain this action and justify it to Southern Baptists.
Permit a clarification – I am not accusing Ben Mandrell or LifeWay’s trustees of wrongdoing. I do not have the facts. I am saying that such an action is ugly and hurtful to Southern Baptist work and it needs to be fully explained.
- Ben Mandrell needs to be transparent about WHY he is suing a respected man like Thom Rainer.
- I want to hear Thom Rainer’s response to this. I believe he will have a reasoned response.
- I want to hear why there couldn’t have been a resolution that avoided a lawsuit.